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Onside or Offside?

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes

PITTSBURGH – Evgeny Kuznetsov saw the replay on the Verizon Center video board. His mouth agape, he slammed his stick on the ice.

He and many, many others, partial and impartial observers alike, thought 3-on-3 overtime between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals would play on after it appeared Kuznetsov entered the zone offside prior to Alex Ovechkin’s goal.

“Upon further review, we have a good goal on the ice,” referee Kevin Pollock announced.

Wait, what?

On the play in question, Kuznetsov is skating up the ice. Brett Pesce is defending for the Hurricanes, and he attempts a sweep check. Kuznetsov pulls the puck back before skating into the zone, but the puck comes off his blade in the process. He realizes this once he’s across the line, looks back and drops it off for Ovechkin.

In the NHL rulebook, Rule 83.1 on “off-side” explains the situation as such: “… a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered ‘off-side,’ provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”

It was determined, then, that Kuznetsov had control of the puck when he crossed the blue line – despite the puck not actually being on his tape.

“I think the NHL needs to educate the people in the league and the people that watch the league on what’s offside and what’s not offside. To them, that’s a legal entry. We understand the rule. They deemed he has possession,” head coach Bill Peters said after practice in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. “They deemed that’s quality possession, so it’s a good goal. It would be nice if the league stepped up and educated people on that play so when it happens again in the playoffs in a real meaningful game, in an elimination game in overtime and that’s the game-winner, they don’t quite look as bad. They have a chance to get ahead of it right now, and we’ll see if they do.”

Compounding the seemingly befuddling nature of the ruling is that an extremely similar play occurred with just about 14 minutes left to play in the third period, and it was whistled offside by the exact same linesman. Jeff Skinner skated up the ice with the puck before it rolled off his tape and he regained control of it as he entered the zone. The whistle blew, and Skinner threw his hands up in confusion.

Peters said the NHL has since clarified that was indeed an incorrect call; Skinner should have been ruled onside.

“So they threw the linesman under the bus on that one,” Peters said. “That’s a bad call, but the other one’s a good call. They’re the same play, so we’ve got an issue.”

The issue boils down to the question of what constitutes possession of the puck, and it seems to have ventured off into a gray area that is only going to become grayer.

Michael Smith
MICHAEL SMITH is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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